New York Rangers: Will Brad Richards Change the Rangers' Grinding Style?

Evan LeBlancCorrespondent IIJuly 19, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella signals players late in the third period against the Washington Capitals in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 15, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Heading into the playoffs this season, a lot of people thought that the New York Rangers would do much better than their Game-5 loss to the Washington Capitals.

Some thought that the younger core the Rangers had bought into John Tortorella's system were beginning to provide the means to challenge the elite teams for the Eastern Conference crown.

They were playing the Capitals, whose reputation in the playoffs was less than stellar.

Though the Rangers had fallen into the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, they got a decent draw in the Capitals, who had radically changed their run-and-gun philosophy from the last time they defeated the Rangers in the playoffs.

The presence of new young faces on the Rangers had given me hope that the blue-shirts finally had established an identity as hard-working grinders.

This replaced the notion of the days when free-agent superstars were counted on to come in and lead the Rangers to the promised land.

Brad Richards signing could be a step in the wrong direction from a team standpoint.

You cannot blame the Rangers for trying to make a splash and sign Richards to a large contract, especially considering the available class of free agents this year.

However, the Rangers should not be so eager to let Brad Richards represent everything that their franchise stands for.

WASHINGTON , DC - APRIL 23:  Marian Gaborik #10 of the New York Rangers battles for the puck behind the back of John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at th
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Marian Gaborik might have a tough time fitting into the system that John Tortorella set up last season. If Richards can convince Gaborik that he will score goals regardless of what system the Rangers play in, the two veterans should conform to the pattern of the rest of the team.

If Gaborik sees the chance of playing with Richards as a chance to get 45 goals, and Richards convinces John Tortorella that they should return to run-and-gun offense, then the Rangers will have a great regular season followed immediately by playoff disappointment.  

The reason that the Rangers have proven that they cannot win using a loose-style offense is because a shot-blocking and grinding style helps goaltender Henrik Lundqvist be more comfortable.

He is an amazing goalie and should not be blamed for giving up goals when his defense is not shouldering any of the load.

Having an elite goaltender who can stop pucks dependably is a luxury that should not be taken for granted by the Rangers. They should not go back to a more open and (honestly) more exciting brand of hockey just to see themselves unable to perform in the playoffs.

The Washington Capitals have learned that having a better offense and more stars than everyone you play does not translate into winning a series.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12:  Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Washington Capitals with teammate Ryan Callahan #24 on December 12, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIs
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In a perfect world, Dubinsky and Callahan would be able to remain the primary leaders of this Ranger squad. Realistically, nobody signs a player for nine years and $60 million without expecting them to become the captain, or maybe an assistant captain.

The players really should decide who their captain is, but for now it appears that Richards will be given the franchise player label.

Rangers fans should hope that Richards does not try to make the team another version of the Lightning.

Richards should make the mature decision and dedicate himself to being a two-way player in the new system.

Hopefully, he will be a positive influence on Gaborik, not a means for Gaborik to prove that he is still among the elite scorers in the NHL.